Simply put, the best way to get around New England is by car. The region is relatively small, the highways are good and public transportation is not as frequent or as widespread as in some other countries. Still, there are the alternatives of air, train and bus.
Boat service in New England is more accurately called ferry service and it tends to be more for pleasure excursions than transportation. There are a couple of exceptions though.
In Massachusetts, you can take a ferry between Boston and Provincetown on Cape Cod. For Martha’s Vineyard, ferries travel between Falmouth and Oak Bluffs and Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven. You can reach Nantucket from Hyannis, Harwich and Martha’s Vineyard.
In Connecticut, ferries travel between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson (Long Island, New York); New London and Block Island; New London and Orient Point (Long Island); and New London and Fisher’s Island (New York).
Buses go to more places than airplanes or trains, but the routes still bypass some prime destinations, especially in rural places.
Besides the national bus company, Greyhound, there are several regional carriers that ply routes within New England:
Concord Trailways (617-426-8080; 800-639-3317, www.concordtrailways.com) Covers routes from Boston to New Hampshire (Concord, Manchester, and as far up as Conway and Berlin) and Maine (Portland and Bangor). Its partner Dartmouth Coach goes to Hanover, New Hampshire.
C&J Trailways (603-430-1100, 800-258-7111; www.cjtrailways.com) Provides daily service between Boston and Newburyport (Massachusetts), as well as Portsmouth and Dover (New Hampshire). Kids travel for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
Peter Pan Bus Lines (800-343-9999; www.peterpanbus.com) Serves 52 destinations in the northeast, as far north as Concord (New Hampshire) and as far south as Washington DC, as well as into western Massachusetts. Fares are comparable to Greyhound.
Vermont Transit (800-552-8737; www.vermonttransit.com) The route from Boston goes via Manchester and Concord (New Hampshire) to White River Junction, Montpelier and Burlington (Vermont), then all the way to Montreal in Canada. Another route runs up the coast to Newburyport (Massachusetts); Portsmouth (New Hampshire); and Portland, Augusta, Bangor and Bar Harbor (Maine).
Yes, driving is the best way to see New England. But heads up: New England drivers are aggressive, speedy and unpredictable, particularly around Boston and other cities. Traffic jams are common in urban areas.
As for parking, municipalities control parking by signs on the street stating explicitly what may or may not be done. Meters require multiple feedings with quarters. A yellow line or yellow-painted curb means that no parking is allowed there.
Gas stations are ubiquitous and many are open 24 hours a day. Small-town stations may be open only from 7am to 8pm or 9pm. Plan on spending $2.00 to $2.80 per US gallon.
At some stations, you must pay before you pump; at others, you may pump before you pay. The more modern pumps have credit/debit card terminals built into them, so you can pay with plastic right at the pump. At ‘full service’ stations, an attendant will pump your gas for you; no tip is expected.
Rental cars are readily available. With advance reservations for a small car, the daily rate with unlimited mileage is about $35, while typical weekly rates are $250 to $300. (Rates for midsize cars are often only a tad higher.) Dropping off the car at a different location from where you picked it up usually incurs an additional fee. It always pays to shop around between rental companies. You can often snag great last-minute deals via the internet – check out www.kayak.com to compare rates across companies.
Having a major credit card greatly simplifies the rental process. Without one, some agencies simply will not rent vehicles, while others require prepayment, a deposit of $200 per week, pay stubs, proof of round-trip airfare and more.
The following companies operate in New England:
Alamo (800-462-5266; www.goalamo.com)
Avis (800-321-3712; www.avis.com)
Budget (800-527-0700; www.budget.com)
Dollar (800-800-5252; www.dollarcar.com)
Enterprise (800-261-7331; www.enterprise.com)
Hertz (800-654-3131; www.hertz.com)
National (800-227-7368; www.nationalcar.com)
Thrifty (800-283-0898; www.thrifty.com)
There are a handful of smaller agencies that may offer better deals, such as Rent-A-Wreck (800-944-7501; www.rentawreck.com), which rents cars that may have more wear and tear than your typical rental vehicle, but are actually far from wrecks.
Should you have an accident, liability insurance covers the people and property that you have hit. For damage to the actual rental vehicle, a collision damage waiver (CDW) is available for about $15 a day. If you have collision coverage on your vehicle at home, it might cover damages to car rentals; inquire before departing. Additionally, some credit cards offer reimbursement coverage for collision damages if you rent the car with that credit card; again, check before departing. Most credit card coverage isn’t valid for rentals of more than 15 days or for exotic models, jeeps, vans and 4WD vehicles.
Amtrak has a few different routes to and through New England. The Vermonter runs through New Haven and Hartford, (Connecticut), Springfield and Amherst (Massachusetts), and then on to St Albans in Vermont.
The Montrealer runs to northern Vermont along the Connecticut River Valley, with stops in New Haven (Connecticut), Amherst (Massachusetts) and Essex Junction (for Burlington), White River Junction and Brattleboro (Vermont).
Hancock County Airport (207-667-7329; www.bhbairport.com) Serves Mt Desert Island and Down East.
Martha’s Vineyard Airport (508-693-7022; www.mvyairport.com) Serves the Vineyard.
Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport (802-786-8881; www.flyrutlandvt.com)
New England Airlines (800-243-2460; www.block-island.com/nea) Flights to Block Island from Westerly.
Bicycling is a popular New England sport and means of transport on both city streets and country roads. Several of the larger cities have systems of bike paths that make bike travel much easier and more pleasant. Disused railroad rights-of-way have also been turned into bike trails. The Cape Cod Rail Trail between Dennis and Wellfleet is a prominent example.
Bicycle rentals are available in most New England cities, towns and resorts at reasonable prices (often $15 to $25 per day).